How to Find a Therapist
Whether an adult or child needs therapy, finding the right therapist takes research, patience, and intuition.
You need to find a therapist. Your life, your child, your
marriage is suffering. But for many people, this task is daunting.
There's the alphabet soup of PhDs, PsyDs, MDs, MSs, and MSWs,
not to mention all the labels -- psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage &
family therapist, family counselor, licensed professional counselor, social
It's true; all these therapists provide mental health services.
But each brings different training, experience, insights, and character to the
table. How can you find a therapist who is right for your needs?
Take heart, for the search will be worth the effort. "A
good therapist, however you find them, is gold," Don Turner, MD, a private
practice psychiatrist for 30 years in Atlanta, tells WebMD. "A good
therapist is nonjudgmental, accepting, and patient. Otherwise, our patients are
just getting what they grew up with."
First, let's look at the professional labels:
Psychiatrists: These are doctors who specialize in the
diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They have medical
training and are licensed to prescribe drugs. They are also trained in
psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, which aims to change a person's
behaviors or thought patterns.
Psychologists: These are doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD)
experts in psychology. They study the human mind and human behavior and are
also trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing -- which
can help uncover emotional problems you may not realize you have.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the psychologist's main
treatment tool -- to help people identify and change inaccurate perceptions
that they may have of themselves and the world around them. Psychologists are
not licensed to prescribe medications. However, they can refer you to a
psychiatrist if necessary.
Social Workers: These are specialists that provide
social services in health-related settings that now are governed by managed
care organizations. Their goal is to enhance and maintain a person's
psychological and social functioning -- they provide empathy and counseling on
interpersonal problems. Social workers help people function at their best in
their environment, and they help people deal with relationships and solve
personal and family problems.
Licensed Professional Counselors. These counselors are
required by state licensure laws to have at least a master's degree in
counseling and 3,000 hours of post-master's experience. They are either
licensed or certified to independently diagnose and treat mental and emotional
disorders, says W. Mark Hamilton, PhD, executive director of the American
Mental Health Counselors Association.
Counselors can help a wide range of problems, including depression,
addiction and substance abuse, suicidal impulses, stress management,
self-esteem issues, issues of aging, emotional health, and family, parenting,
and marital or other relationship problems. They often work closely with other
mental health specialists.
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Sorting It Out
When you start your search, keep an open mind. A therapist
does not need decades of experience -- or a sheepskin from an ivy-league
school -- to be helpful, says Turner.